"Through cycling, I've developed a surprising closeness to the land," says Bay Area resident and proud Sarto Seta Plus owner Sarah George. "When you work in a city like San Francisco and assume there's nothing but brick and concrete around you, then learn through exploration that the city is alive with trails and nature that doesn't conform to neat lines, your perception changes radically.”

Sarah began her cycling journey just over five years ago when she graduated from college. She credits her partner, Skyler (a cyclist of the fat tyre sort and very quick, as his race results attest), for introducing her to the bike and her journey towards becoming a competitive athlete in her own right.

"Over the last few years, Skyler and I would ride home from work together and figure out how to navigate away from traffic to get where we needed to go," she says. "Through our wanderings, we must have found every single narrow trail, cut through, weedy path and back alley in San Francisco, from Twin Peaks at the geographic centre of the city to Sutro Heights in the west." 

In cycling, like so many of life's passions, exploration begets exploration, and soon, Sarah's awareness of the city's myriad routes beyond the main roads grew to include a more sensitive perception of her immediate environment.


"The bike helped me tune in to my local area and conditions in a way I'd never experienced before," she says. "From what roads are closed and where to go to get around them, to the enormity of seeing the seasons change from the saddle, the state of the tarmac and trails in wet weather - all of it." In other words, cycling has a lot of layers! "Exactly," she laughs. "How you feel and how it will be when you're out there; environment intertwined with exertion. The bike allows you to experience the outdoors and nature in a very intimate way."

As anyone who has ever had a partner introduce them to a new activity knows, what started as well-meaning advice can soon grate as newfound passion meets the lessons of someone else's journey. So, how much did her informal cycling coach, Skyler, tick her off? "Haha, he really didn't! What helped was I got out on my own pretty quickly. As soon as I'd learned to clip in and out without falling off, I could go and do solo rides."

Soon, Sarah was cycling from San Francisco to Tiburon in Marin County, riding over the Golden Gate Bridge, through Sausalito (home of Sarto's partner Above Category, who equipped Sarah with her Seta), and on to the bike paths and back roads that led towards her destination on the Tiburon Peninsula which extends south into the San Francisco Bay. "That journey was instructive because I learned a lot about being smart in traffic," she explains. "Also, learning how to navigate pedestrians and dogs and other cyclists, cars, and just being out on my own." 

Plus, it's a beautiful route - "so very lovely," she agrees. "It got me excited about riding longer distances on weekends. Skyler is big into training, so we don't always ride together, which again gave me the freedom to explore on my own and really cement my love of cycling."


And cement it she did. Nowadays, Sarah doesn't just ride on the roads; she races, although her venue of choice is the trail, not the tarmac. When did the itch to compete take hold, and why off-road?

"I think it began when my friends and I would go and watch Skyler compete in some mountain bike or gravel race," she says. "Off-road races are not typically spectator events. It's like, you see someone, wave at them, hope they see you, and that's that until you drive to another section of the course and hope to catch them fly by once more. But the courses are all super cool, and for the length of the event, you have access to so much land you wouldn't ordinarily have access to as a lone rider. So I got to thinking, maybe I should have a go at this racing thing??"

Although Sarah found and embraced a competitive edge during high school track and field sprint races, she'd be the first to admit that she doesn't necessarily come off as competitive. "But I do like that about bike racing. It's a specific outlet where I can be that person." That and becoming a better racer, she says. "I love being strategic and learning all the little things that can give you an edge. It's not necessarily about beating others, but becoming a better technical rider, clearing a section a little more smoothly, managing your energy more efficiently."


Whatever Sarah's doing, it's working, as her 4th place at the Grasshopper Adventure Series' Low Gap event this past January attests. "It's been a tough journey, for sure," she says. "I'm not the most natural endurance athlete, so it took me time to switch gears from strength over shorter efforts to enduring the multi-hour effort of gravel racing." What does she put her success down to? "A lot of training!" she laughs. "Maybe even more than people who are faster than me, who are more naturally attuned to endurance. It's been a lot of work."

As our chat comes to a close, I realise I haven't even asked Sarah about her Sarto.

"Oh, I love that bike," she says. "I had a bike fit with Jess at Above Category, which informed the geometry of my Seta and the tube composition based upon my weight, height and riding profile. I can only compare it to my previous stock road bike - it was quite a 'good' one - but the Seta is a custom dream. It's so comfortable, stable, and reactive to power. As a blend of attributes, having a very comfortable bike that's also really fast is kind of strange. Maybe it's just strange because I hadn't experienced that blend of attributes before this bike."

Despite the Seta Plus' all-road credentials, Sarah admits that, so far, she's only ridden it on paved surfaces. "I'm a bit nervous about taking it on anything too rough - I don't want to damage the paint!" She's joking, but only just. I assure her it will be fine. More than fine, in fact, and she promises to show it the trees soon.


Before we say our goodbyes, I ask Sarah if she has any tips for other women keen to start their cycling journey.

"I think the best thing you can do is try to reach for a community of other females," she says. "And that can begin by checking out your local bike shop and seeing if they have a women's ride you can join, or women-only events which act as a forum for swapping ideas, tips and forming groups. I've met a lot of inspiring women through some of the local rides we do here, and it's been invaluable to ask them questions about equipment and so forth, and ultimately uplifting to ride with people on a similar journey to you."

On that note, we say our goodbyes. I wish Sarah luck for her upcoming season of races, and she extolls the virtues of a print subscription to Rouleur magazine to me. I'll check it out!


Article by Pete Harrington | 26 March 2024 Photos by Jim Merithew